Illinois State University
Illinois State University
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An Introduction to the Graduate Program in History

Over the past several years the Department of History at Illinois State University has developed a challenging and unusually flexible masters-level graduate program. We encourage our students to explore not only American, European, ancient history, and the histories of South America to the Far and Near East, but also to take courses outside of history in other disciplines as they decide what careers they might pursue or as they develop their credentials in existing careers. The forty to fifty full and part-time students in our program graduate very well positioned to make use of their degrees in a variety of different ways.

Our students come from widely varying backgrounds and enter our program with a broad range of objectives. While the department continues to train a few students who elect to pursue a doctorate elsewhere our program recognizes that many of our students have other goals. Some of our students find that graduate study broadens their perspective and helps them to develop skills in analysis and interpretation that are of significant value in government and law as well as in business. Other students study in history will prepare them for such careers, as indeed it will. And some students, often older students, simply hope to study history for the sake of studying history. Many of our students, however, are secondary school teachers who wish to broaden their knowledge of history and strengthen their skills in teaching. About half of our students attend full-time and complete their degrees in three or four semesters while the remaining half, who include many in-service teachers, attend part time and complete the program over a period of three or more years.

Whether a student is full or part time, whether he or she is working or not or just out of an undergraduate program or retired from one profession and hoping to enter another, our students can, for all intents and purposes, design their own course of study.

At Illinois State, students find an experienced faculty who is committed to teaching - at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Our department consists of twenty-four full time faculty, several part time or shared time faculty, three secretarial staff members, and a number of Graduate Teaching Assistants and Undergraduate Teaching Assistants. The faculty itself is a diverse group, coming from many different backgrounds, and specializing in a wide range of geographic areas, periods, and themes, including European, global and United States history, cultural, urban and public history, and the teaching of history.

Our faculty values its graduate program, enjoys teaching, and recognizes that our graduate students add much to the department's vitality.




Graduate Program - Master’s Degree Options

The degree has no "breadth" requirement, giving students every opportunity to explore the discipline extensively. Requirements are minimal.

  • Students are required to take only one course, Philosophy of History and Historiography (HIS 496), which introduces them to the literature and concepts that guide our discipline.
  • Students must meet a common research requirement, generally by completing one of the department's research seminars.
  • Students must take a minimum of 20 credit hours of course work at the 400-level
  • Students must meet a capstone requirement.

Students are otherwise free to choose whatever courses most intrigue them.

Having such wide flexibility in selecting courses gives our students an opportunity to explore fields of history that they might otherwise remain unaware but the approach does run the risk that a student's course of study will lack direction. Our program's capstone requirement, however, offers students the opportunity to bring their studies into greater focus. There are two - and for some, three - options that a student can undertake to meet this requirement.

Over the past few years, the History faculty adopted a series of recommendations by the Graduate Committee to recast the structure of the graduate program. Our intent has been to reduce the number of courses that our graduate students were required to take and, more significantly still, to recast our capstone requirement.

For some time, graduate students have been able to do either a thesis or the "two seminar paper" option to meet the degree's capstone requirement. The department is replacing the "two seminar paper" option with the newly defined "field of study" option. The "two seminar option" will, however, remain on the books for some time - Any student who entered our program under the existing or earlier Graduate Catalog will, however, be able to choose any of the three options - the thesis, the "field of study", or the "two seminar paper" option:

  • The Thesis Option, which has not been changed, still requires twenty-six hours of course credits, in addition to the six hours of thesis credits that students can take towards the research and writing of their thesis. The thesis may be based on research in primary sources or on an analysis of a selected problem from historical literature. Its length should be between 75 and 125 pages, exclusive of graphics, footnotes, and the bibliography.

  • The Field of Study Option requires thirty-five hours of graduate credit, plus four hours of directed readings on a topic that a student selects and explores under the direction of one of the department’s faculty.  A student’s mastery of the selected field will be assessed in an examination.

    As must be done for the “two seminar paper” option, students selecting the “field of study” option in lieu of a thesis must complete 39 credit hours of study.  They will, however, be working with a member of our faculty who will serve as their advisor to develop a “field of study”.  Working closely with his or her advisor, the student will first identify a comprehensive listing of readings based on that “field of study,” and over the course of the semester will-hopefully, master those readings.  At semester’s end, the student will take a final examination that the student has developed with the advisor.  For example, a student interested in the role of American religious history would identify, with the assistance of a professor, a body of readings that would enable the student to thoroughly explore the topic.  In undertaking these readings, which would normally be done in the student’s final semester of study, the student would receive credit for four graduate hours under the auspices of a new course, Readings in History (His 490).

For some time, a few students will continue to be able to do what is commonly known as the program’s “two seminar paper” option.

The “two seminar paper” option requires the completion of 39 credit hours, plus the submission of two revised seminar papers that have been reviewed and endorsed by a member of the faculty.

Though the “two seminar paper” option is probably the easiest of the three options to complete, both the thesis and the “field of study” options offer students critical advantages.  Those students doing a thesis gain considerable experience in research while also enjoying – hopefully – the opportunity of working closely with one of the members of our faculty as their thesis advisor.  Similarly, those students undertaking the “field of study” option will also be working closely with a member of the faculty while gaining through a series of “directed readings” appreciable expertise in a field of history, which can be highlighted on the student’s vita.

Students must also successfully meet a “research requirement.”  Those students doing a Thesis will meet the requirement by doing the thesis, but all other students, whether they elect to do the “two seminar paper” or “field of study” option as their capstone must either have taken Research in History (His 497) sometime in the past when it was taught as a methodology course in research or one of the department’s “research seminars” in which students will undertake and complete a defined research paper.  These research seminar, two of which are offered each spring semester, are, somewhat confusingly taught under the umbrella of His 497 but each seminar is topic-based rather than being a course in methodology.  The intent is to introduce students to various research methodologies within the context of a subject.

In sum, faced with a limited number of requirements our graduate students enjoy great leeway in selecting courses, while simultaneously gaining experience in research and having the opportunity to focus upon a topic of interest.

Once the required course work are taken and the capstone requirement is completed, the student is eligible for either the Master of Arts or the Master of Science degree, the sole difference being whether the student meets the university’s language requirement.  That requirement can be met by either completing two years of language study at the university level or achieving a satisfactory score on a foreign language assessment test.


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Department of History
Normal, Il 61790-4420
Phone: (309) 438-5641
Fax: (309) 438-5607